Archive | January, 2012


31 Jan

28 January 2012

Bank of Valletta Premier Division

Birkirkara FC 00  v  Floriana FC 01

Sliema Wanderers 00 v Valletta FC 00 (att 1,585)

Ta’Qali National Stadium, Malta

Pre-match warm-up. Well, another jolly away from South London but with a spate of midweek postponements and general lack of activity around the unblogged grounds of South London, I’ve been forced to stick up another tales from afar.

This week, I was convinced to visit the land of my father and home to multiple relatives. After 72 hours of visiting over 17 of the extended Masini tribe, I was reduced to a moment of stubbornness befitting of my status as an only-child and demanded some well researched ‘me time’. The kind of me time that meant my darling wife and less darling family could officially bugger off for an afternoon whilst I went to the football.

Team(s) talk. Malta is a football bloggers haven. Every weekend, you can get a look at all twelve teams in the Bank of Valletta Premier Division with two games played back-to-back on each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday across the Ta’Qali in the middle of the island, the Victor Tedesco Stadium in the upmarket Valletta suburb of Hamrun and the Hibernians Stadium in Paola. Consequently no team is really ever ‘at home’, even Hibs and Hamrun Spartans play home games at the other grounds.

Last Saturday saw four of the top five sides in the league meet in the Maltese equivalent of Super Sunday at the National Stadium in Ta’Qali.

Birkirkara are somewhat pretenders to the throne having only won their first league title in the 1999/2000 season. That said, they won a further two titles, most recen tly in 2009/2010. Their performance in this 2010’s Champions League was also an unheralded success. Not only did they accomplish the impossible and progress from the 1st qualifying round, but they even had Czech (former conqueror of Rangers) Zilina on the ropes after a 1st leg 1-0 win at Ta’Qali. Despite this, a fourth league title looks a wee way off as the Stripes sit some way back in 5th.

Their opponents were 3rd placed Floriana, a side who despite having one of the most successful histories in Maltese Football, haven’t won a league title since 1993. They are, I suppose, the Liverpool of the league, perhaps without the irritating scroat of a manager or northern pony-tails…but probably just as many racists.

Floriana are probably my least favourite team in Malta due to their green and white hooped kits and all that those colours represent. Founded by the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1894, Floriana were so keen to build on their Irish connections that they turned to former League of Ireland journeyman and Carlisle United manager, Roddy Collins which was swiftly followed by a partnership agreement with Shamrock Rovers. Neither relationship with the Emerald Isle lasted very long and Collins was back in Ireland quicker than you can say “Ryanair hidden surcharges”.

The second match saw two of the powerhouses of the Maltese game face off. Reigning championsValletta have twenty league titles to their name (and that of their pre-merger incarnations: Valletta Prestons, Valletta St. Paul’s and Valletta United) and currently sit atop the league. The Whites have been able to attract a number of higher profile Maltese and international players (well, Jordi Cruyff) in recent times. Currently former Coventry City midfielder Michael Mifsud has returned to the island of his birth to play for Valletta and is seen as some sort of prodigal son despite never previously playing for Valletta and turning out for Sliema Wanderers in nearly 100 games. Disappointingly, former Macclesfeld Town goalie and the only Rosbif on any of the four rosters, Matt Towns, was on the bench.

Sliema Wanderers have won more titles in Maltese football than any other side. A whopping 26 titles have come their way but they haven’t tasted success in over 5 years. Currently sitting 4th and some way back, they look unlikely to challenge again this year.

Park the bus.  Travel in Malta is always pretty easy and hopping over to Ta’Qali is no different. The 52 or 53 bus from Valletta takes 20 minutes and will drop you a few hundred metres from the ground. Alternatively, a taxi will set you back around 15 euros (or less than 10 if you speak Maltese).

The Empire Strikes Black (and white)...sorry

Homefield advantage. There’s been a stadium in Ta’Qali since 1980 when the charismatic Maltese Prime Minister (and fan of belts), Dom Mintoff, requested a stadium be built to replace the outdated Empire Stadium.

Herein lies the long and chequered history of Ta’Qali and in many ways, Malta’s development as a whole. Whilst the stadium opened for business in 1981, it was far from complete and the works to complete the ground were stunted for the next 20 years by parliamentary wrangling and an ever-changing party-political landscape where single-seat parliamentary majorities are the norm. Viewed as a signature of the Malta Labour Party, the Malta Nationalists refused to do very much to improve the stadium. I recall seeing Malta lose 6-0 to Holland in 1995 in a storm that turned the unsurfaced car park into 4 foot of mud, the result of obdurate politicians who refused to complete another party’s project.

However, common sense comes to all men…eventually, and in 1999 a wholesale renovation of the ground was ordered by Nats Prime Minister (and fan of waxwork popes) Fenech Adami. This led to the opening of the Millennium Stand a stand that hasn’t actually changed on the inside of the ground, but housed a new office for the Maltese Football Federation.

Inside, the Millennium Stand is basic but provides adequate shelter from both the sun and rain and features a small corporate hospitality area on the upper tier. The Millennium is probably the closest thing to a Pigeon Stand that Ta’Qali can offer, although there wasn’t a pigeon in sight; instead there was a baffling array of thrushes, flycatchers and warblers. Alive, a rare sight in Malta. Dead, sadly very common.

The new West Stand looks decent. It wouldn’t look out of place in any normal stadium and was the busier area at the game with all the ‘Ultras’, bar those supporting Birkirkara, favouring it’s ample shelter. Birkirkara sat through the drizzle with a voice of general surly discontent. They were ace.

Both the North and South Stands were closed and remain so unless there’s a big international. The ground’s 17,000 capacity is rarely threatened.

Tickets are purchased from a series of windows next to the turnstiles. Because I was running a bit late I didn’t have time to scope out the busier West Stand and headed for the Millennium where I purchased my ticket. Just 6 euros for 2 games.

Merchandising was restricted to a table full of Valletta swag: Two types of wall clocks, a calendar, FOUR types of tracksuit, not to mention the usual hats and scarves. This was a bounty that almost rivalled the Sutton United club shop and made the merch table at Champion Hill look rather spartan (good job Dulwich have a new merch shed).

Blurry merch heaven

Prawn sandwiches. Refreshments in the Millennium Stand are served from a tiny hatch in the tea coop: A prison of beverages and stacks to rival the great Leatherhead beer cage at Fetcham Grove. A pint of locally-brewed (and mighty fine) beer will set you back less than 2 euros but a chilly afternoon called for 80c coffee, served black; for you see, in Malta, milk is for pussies. Various crisps and chocolates were retailing around the standard 50c to 90c mark and whilst there we no pies to be had, a large slice of pizza (probably about 10 by 7 inches) was yours for 2 euros. Had it not been for a big lunch, I’d have been on it quicker than an Arsenal-supporting prison rapist on Harry Redknapp’s soon to be incarcerated behind.


…and the game(s). Two games, one goal. Not ideal but nevertheless a pair of interesting games interwoven with the sounds of Jurassic Park: The Official Soundtrack at half-time and between matches. The first game was a lot more free-flowing with both sides having a go right to the end. Floriana were clearly the better side and look like the most competent of the four teams on show. Floriana striker Ivan Woods caused problems for the Stripes defence throughout the game and was rewarded with a goal 20 minutes before the end with a well worked breakaway goal to send the Floriana support away happy.

At the conclusion of match one, there was a quick turnaround. In less than 10 minutes, flags and banners were removed and new ones erected. There were nods of mutual respect between the clubs supporters as they got to work fastening/unfastening their respective signs from the North and South Stands.

On the pitch too, there was a speedy rotation. Within minutes of one set of 22 men disappearing, another 22 arrived. Seemingly, the players in the second game warm up on the pitch next door, that or they go about it like real men and do a couple of half-hearted lunges before bossing an entire 90 minutes.

Valletta and Sliema played out a relatively uneventful 0-0. Michael Mifsud was orchestrating throughout and the pocket rocket was visibly frustrated by the quality of the admittedly poor service. In the end it was Mifsud who was at fault after missing a late penalty with a weak effort that was easily turned away by Wanderers’ keeper, Henry Bonello.

Man of the match. Super Sunday at Ta’Qali. A sell out, no? No. Sadly, football in Malta revolves around Serie A and, more prominently, the English Premier League. So on a day when millionaire mercenaries of the Liverpool Red Sox and Manchester Buccaneers did battle at Anfield, finding anyone willing to go and watch their local Maltese teams was a struggle. Yet those who turned out were largely vocal and had a heck of a time. Half English cheering support, half Italian chanting, it was an interesting mix. I particularly enjoyed the ESL version of “When the Greens Go Marching In” by the Floriana loyal.

However, my man of the match has to go to Valletta’s ‘Beltin Ultras’ trumpeter. A rare honour bestowed by me as I hate musical accompaniment on the terraces. That England band that got free tickets for years, Portsmouth John, Manolo El Del Bombo: They can all fuck right off. It’s gimmicky nonsense. However, the Valletta trumpeter is a rare and beautiful talent. Instead of a 90 minute barrage, the lad picked is moments launching into a dazzling array of hits: the Lambada, Ob-la-di-ob-la-da, the match of the day theme, Rivers of Babylon and a classic blast of “here we go, here we go, here we go”. Outstanding stuff.

Ultras Beltin. Passenger seat advice that we call learn from

Post-match rubdown. Malta isn’t exactly renowned for its football but there are still plenty of opportunities to take in a game or two (or six) if you find yourself on the island. Tickets are cheap and readily available and on a nice sunny afternoon, it’s highly recommended. Maybe less so on a chilly January afternoon. That said, it’s live football and if you prefer to sample a bit of local sub-culture instead of sitting in a bar watching the Premiership. You’ll be assured of a warm welcome and four hours of tolerable sport.  


Fisher FC

7 Jan

Champion Hill, Dulwich

Kent League (Step 5)

2 January 2012

Fisher FC 0 v Beckenham Town 4 (att 142 )

Team talk. Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know that we have written about Champion Hill before on a visit to see Dulwich Hamlet. This blog entry will focus on Fisher FC. A more detailed description of the ground can be found here.

The club formally known as Fisher Athletic dates back to 1908, formed originally to provide recreational facilities for underprivileged kids in the Bermondsey area. Despite the fan songs and club emblem suggesting that the club name may refer to the sea, Fisher is actually a reference to Catholic Saint, John Fisher.

The high point of the club must be their time spent in the Conference Premier between 1986 and 1991 – although this was followed by successive relegations. Further success came between 2005 and 2008 when they played in the Conference South. The recent off the pitch history is complex, but in short the club moved to ground share with Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill in 2004 while a new stadium was developed for Fisher in the Surrey Docks area. Financial difficulties led to the club being wound up in 2009. They reformed almost straight way, owned by a supporters trust, continuing to play at Dulwich Hamlet but in the Kent League, they also dropped the Athletic from the name to be called Fisher FC. The “back to Bermondsey” badges available at the turnstile suggests that finding a new home in Bermondsey is still a major aspiration for the club.

This season Fisher have made good progress in what is a really strong Kent league. Both Fisher and Beckenham Town are contesting for play off places and a win for either team today would move them a step further.

This was the first game of the New Year for me and the game choice really came down to a toss up between this and Erith & Belvedere v Erith Town. The Fisher game looked like the better of the two matches but I was initially resistant due to the club ground sharing at Champion Hill, home to my own team Dulwich Hamlet. Now I don’t have any objection to ground sharing, such arrangements have no doubt kept some clubs afloat and have on occasion proved worthwhile for both teams. No, my resistance to seeing Fisher play at Champion Hill was something far more primitive, almost a sense that it would be disloyal to Dulwich.

…..and the game. Reservations aside, seeing Fisher ended up just feeling a little strange rather than anything else – like that episode of the Twilight Zone where someone wakes up in a world that is familiar yet something is not quite right. It was like a visit to Champion Hill… but not. Where was Griff on the turnstile, Bill the programme seller, where was Mick pestering me for a quid for the golden goal, where was the rabble (nickname for the Dulwich fans). And more importantly WHERE WAS THE PINK AND BLUE???

Being a seasoned ground hopper nowadays I soon got over all this and settled down to watch what was an entertaining game. Personally I thought that 4-0 flattered Becks slightly and there is no doubt that this was a massive result for them. Having seen both teams before I know that they each play great football going forward and neither disappointed today, they are a real credit to the Kent league. If anything were to separate the teams I would say that Becks had a physical edge that Fisher just could not cope with and made all the difference. Fisher were also guilty of a few defensive lapses. As with our recent visit to see Fisher play Cray Valley (Paper Mills), Chan Quan looked impressive on the wing. Alfie Nunn also continues to look good for Beckenham.

A more detailed match report can be found on the Fisher website here.

Pink and who?

Post game rub down. Visiting your ground share is a bit weird and ultimately if you are anywhere near Champion Hill (or even if you are not) I would urge you to wear the pink and blue of Dulwich. That said, the Fisher faithful are a good lot and if you like your football songs with a tinge of irony and good humour then they may be the team for you.

Cray Valley (Paper Mills)

2 Jan

Badgers Sports Ground, Eltham, SE9

Kent League (Step 5)

26 December 2011

Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 1 v Fisher FC 2 (att circa 100)

Team talk. Boxing day is a big occasion in the footballing calendar. It is also a day when non-league football really comes into its own as you are almost guaranteed that your local team with be playing a derby game. This is great as (1) you don’t have to travel too far to watch a game, (2) the fact that the games are local derbies can often give them a spice to rival the old spice you got your dad for Christmas, and (3) as non-league football is generally kinder on the wallet than league you can take all the family to the game (whether they want to go or not). Non-league football advert over, we decided to celebrate this Boxing Day by venturing less than 4 miles from Pigeon Stand base camp to watch the deceptively named Cray Valley (Paper Mills) play Fisher.

Cray Valley (Papers Mills) is deceptive as the club is not located in the Cray Valley and also has no current relationship with a paper mill. The club’s history can be traced back to the early twenties. Whilst records are sketchy it is thought that the club has played in or around what was the Southern Alliance League for much of its existence, playing at the Paper Mills ground at St. Paul’s Cray, Orpington. The manufacturing of paper was a major industry for areas close the River Cray in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Geography suggests that this team now playing in Eltham is likely to be named after Nash’s Mill at St Pauls Cray, which was torn down in 1986.

The club decided to call it a day in 1976, before reforming in 1981. The club’s website says that they have had a somewhat nomadic existence since reforming, playing at a number of venues before settling at their current home in Eltham, SE9.

Since 1981 the club have played in the South London Alliance League, the London Spartan League, and the London Intermediate League, before joining the Kent County League (step 6) in 2001/2. Cray Valley’s most successful season was in 2004/5 when they won the league by 11 points, and also won the Kent Intermediate Challenge Shield and the Inter Regional Challenge Cup. As part of a re-gig of step 6 in Kent for the 2011/12 season Cray Valley were asked to fill a space in the Kent League (step 5).

The 2011/12 did not start particularly well for Cray Valley with the team losing the opening 3 games. Things have picked up of late and the team were unbeaten in four games going into today’s game, this included a massive 4-2 over Erith and Belvedere. This left the team in 12th at the start of play. Opponent’s Fisher were two places above them.

Cray Valley manager Steve Chapman reports in his blog that 3 points against Fisher today was the only thing on his Christmas List. Here’s hoping that Santa would not be in for a kicking.

Park the bus. Cray Valley play at the wonderfully named Badger ground – named in honour of the YouTube hit “the Honey Badger” (not true).

The ground is about 10 minutes walk from Mottingham rail (zone 4) and can accessed from central London by trains from Canon Street and Charing Cross that leave every 20 minutes or so.

Home advantage. It must be said, Cray Valley really know how to welcome their visitors. On approach to the ground we were greeted with a scrolling electronic sign at the main gate welcoming visiting fans. As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to the Bee Gee’s hit “More Than A Woman” over a loud speaker while queuing at the turnstile which is located in the large car park next to the ground.

Just as we were starting to feel special, the VIP treatment ended when we got pitch side. The Badger ground does not have a stand or other covered area, in fact the ground does not even have flood lights (Saturday games at the Badger kick off at 2pm for this reason). It is understood that the flood lights and stands needed to make the ground fit for the Kent league and beyond will be coming in the Spring. The ground is completely open on the south side and fenced on others. A concrete path leads you around the pitch. The clubhouse and changing rooms are located in two buildings in the north east corner of the ground.

Prawn sandwiches. We were starting to think that Cray Valley had invested all spare cash in a flashy electronic sign (I’m imagining a sign sales man and a scene not unlike the one from the Simpsons Monorail episode).

Luckily the bar is newly refurbished and makes a pleasant venue for a half time drink. There is even a beer garden out front that must be very pleasant in the summer – one to avoid on Boxing Day though.


The second half of the game was memorable more for incidents off the pitch rather than on. The unlikely source of the controversy was the tea hut (which is attached to the main club house). A number of fans wanting tea in the second half were turned away as the tea hut ran out of cups – this followed a ten minute episode where staff went off to try to find cups and instead managed to set fire alarms off (luckily the players did not have to evacuate the pitch because of this). This incident led to a fair amount of discontent in the second half – never stand in the way of Brits and their tea.

Disgruntled tea drinkers

…..and the game. A fairly dull game really. Cray Valley probably started the brightest and were good for their goal on half an hour. Fisher perhaps looked the more inventive side, playing some neat football, and deserved to equalise towards the end of the first half (although their goal came from a Cray defensive error).

Both teams were persistent in looking for the winner in the second half, and I personally though it was heading towards a draw. However, in the 91st minute it was Fisher who scored and took the three points.

Man of the match. For a lunchtime kick off on Boxing Day I was impressed with the number of Fisher fans who turned up. It was nice to see a strong visiting support at a step 5 game and their fans lightened a dull affair with some fun singing including the very seasonal “Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to sing when Fisher win away”.

Fisher ultras

Post game rub down. Don’t let the fun name (and sign) fool you, there are probably better non league football trips in this part of London. And visitors should pack a flask just in case the tea’s off.